Origins of our Surnames

It was a full house for the March edition of “In The Ballroom” on 11th, when etymologist and author Anthony Poulton-Smith gave a fascinating talk about our surnames and what they mean. 

He explained that in Britain surnames were not passed down from one generation to the next until after the Norman conquest, following the French style of family names. The majority of our surnames have four main origins: adopting a parent’s name, e.g. Thompson, Davidson or Jones (John’s son) – describing where someone lived, e.g. Newton, (the new town or hamlet), Wood, Banks – describing their trade , e.g. Baker, Smith, Thatcher – or describing what they looked like, sometimes in not very complimentary ways, e.g. Brown, Short, Sharp or Redhead. 

The guests then enthusiastically asked him about their own surnames, and he was able to say whether they had Germanic or French origins, and decipher the meaning of some obscure ones. 

The talk was followed by the usual tea, coffee and cake, and Helen’s picture-quiz continued the theme of names by asking about the real names of some famous people, including Cary Grant, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Helen Mirren. Do you know them?

In the Ballroom takes place in the Jury Street Court House on the second Wednesday of each month from 2pm to 4pm. But it has been decided to call off the April edition as the coronavirus epidemic is clearly getting worse, and social gatherings involving quite a lot of elderly people will be unwise. (See separate story ‘In The Ballroom in April called off’)

The next scheduled social gathering In The Ballroom is therefore on May 13th, but the situation will kept under review and the official guidance will be followed. Check this website nearer the time for news of the May meeting.